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Pokemon Go gets Us Going

Have you noticed throngs of people roaming your city with their eyes fixed on their smart phones? They congregate at landmarks and, from time to time, let out cheers of excitement. Chances are they are playing Pokémon Go, the latest video game craze!

The game, available on Apple and Android phones, guides players to local sites using GPS technology. At some sites, players can capture virtual Pokémon (“pocket monsters”) displayed on their phones over real-world locations. At Pokéstops, they can find useful items and Poké eggs, which hatch into Pokémon after the player walks 2 – 10 km. Finally, at “gyms”, they can train and battle their Pokémon. The objective is to catch and “evolve” as many types of Pokémon as possible.

Within days of its release on July 6, this “augmented reality” game topped the US App Store. It surpassed Tinder and Twitter in terms of installs and daily active users, respectively. Furthermore, it increased Nintendo’s market value by over $7 billion!

But Pokémon Go is not just benefiting the Japanese company. Doctors believe it is also boosting the health of the game’s ~21 million players. As described above, Pokémon Go forces players to walk extensively throughout their community. According to Jawbone, the average user’s daily step count rose from 6,000 to nearly 11,000 steps in the weekend following the game’s release.

Professor Matt Hoffman can testify: “I’ve spent an hour or two at a time venturing around the community to find Pokéstops. There’s no doubt about it, I am exercising more as a result of playing the game”. In many cases, such exercise replaces detrimental activities, like sitting for extended periods and smoking/drinking to “de-stress”.

In addition to the obvious physical benefits, Pokémon Go is also enhancing the mental health of some users. For people with anxiety, depression, and agoraphobia, it provides “motivation to go outside and explore the world” as well as “a distraction from their fears and inner monologue”. In the words of one user, “I walked outside for hours and suddenly found myself enjoying it. I had the instant rush of dopamine whenever I caught a Pokémon and I wanted to keep going”.

Moreover, unlike most video games, Pokémon Go brings players together in real life (at Pokéstops, gyms etc). Players can interact and discuss their mutual desire to “catch ‘em all”. The result is a “sense of belonging, which can have a positive impact on our emotional and mental health”. This is especially true for individuals will social phobia or autism.

Of course, players should exercise common sense when playing the game. They should follow heat and outdoor safety precautions and avoid walking to dark, isolated places—especially in light of recent robberies. Also, they should look up! Already, several players have landed in the ER after falling into ditches, tripping on curbs, and walking into objects while glued to their phones.

In sum, Pokémon Go is more than a mere video game. It is a “catalyst” for physical activity, a “healthy habit motivator”, and a true community. “If it’s not just a fad”, says Dr. Bhardwaj, “these health benefits are going to be quite significant”.

Want to improve health outcomes for you or your family? Try Pokémon Go and contact Healthy Lifestyle Choices, Shape Up America!, Action for Healthy Kids, Girls on the Run, Memphis Athletic Ministries, and the YMCA.

 

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Justice for Juno! Court Rules that Pets aren’t “Property”

Dogs across Oregon are wagging their tags after a landmark ruling last month. The state’s Supreme Court found that dogs are not mere property, but rather “sentient beings capable of experiencing pain, stress, and fear”. As such, they can be examined and treated for medical purposes without a warrant.

It all started with a dog named Juno. In 2010, the Oregon Humane Society (OHS) received a call alleging that Juno was abused, starving, and locked up for hours a day. OHS immediately sent an officer, who found Juno “in a bad state, with no fat on his body”. He was dry-heaving and attempting to eat “random things” in the yard.

The officer seized Juno and delivered him to an OHS veterinarian. Dr. Hedge could immediately discern from the visible ribs and vertebrae that Juno was malnourished. In fact, on a scale of 1 – 9, she rated Juno as 1.5 (emaciated). Less obvious, however, was the cause of Juno’s condition. Was it a parasite, disease, or simply neglect by his owner?

To determine, Dr. Hedge drew a blood sample for laboratory testing. The test “revealed nothing medically wrong with Juno that would have caused him to be thin”. Instead, the blame rested with Juno’s owner, Amanda Newcomb. Newcombe was subsequently charged by with second-degree animal neglect.

Justice served! Well, not yet…Newcombe maintained that Juno was a pet and pets are property. Thus, the drawing of Juno’s blood without a warrant violated her 4th amendment right (against unreasonable searches of her property). In response, the prosecution argued that Juno has a right to medical care and freedom from neglect. Moreover, if it is legal to examine a child for abuse, it should be legal for Juno too.

The trial court sided with the prosecutor and convicted Newcombe. But in 2014, the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed the decision, despite the howls of animal activists. It wasn’t until June 2016 that the Oregon Supreme Court reinstated the original trial court ruling. Victory!

Of course, the court did limit the ruling’s scope. Specifically, the court stated that it applies only to animals that have been seized lawfully on suspicion of abuse or neglect. Furthermore, it only permits “medically appropriate procedures” to diagnose and treat an animal in ill-health.

Regardless, this is a “significant ruling“. It adds “nuanced contours” to humans’ “dominion” over animals and associated privacy rights. At the same time, the ruling “has very practical implications”. According to Lora Dunn of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, it enables seized animals to be examined and treated much more quickly than before, as securing a warrant “can take hours”. The Oregon Humane Society agrees, stating that “This ruling removes what could have been a major roadblock to cruelty investigations”.

Want to learn more or adopt your own little Juno? Contact the Oregon Humane Society, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, or our partners, Animal House Shelter, Caldwell Animal Rescue, Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary, and PAWS New England.